By Shane Thomas
Arsenal are currently a club in choppy waters. A dreadful start to the league campaign, injuries to key players, and an addition of older players to a callow squad that some have dubbed as "panic buys". There couldn't have been a less opportune time for them to face a side that exemplify many of the qualities that the Gunners were once admired for.
Arsenal play Borussia Dortmund tonight to open their Champions League campaign. Like the start of the domestic season, the fixtures haven't been kind to the North Londoners. Marseille will prove awkward opposition, while Olympiakos have an impressive home record. Their biggest test however, comes from the boys from Dortmund.
And "boys" is almost a literal term. Borussia both shocked and pleased many neutrals in Germany by comfortably winning the Bundesliga last season, playing an expansive and entertaining brand of football that triumphed over the more traditional domestic powers. They are a relatively young team, with a relatively young coach. While I think Arsene Wenger should be allowed to try and return Arsenal to their former glories, if he were to leave, then the ideal replacement would probably be the Dortmund head coach, Jurgen Klopp.
He has assembled a team built around the attacking talents of Mario Gotze, Lucas Barrios, and Shinji Kagawa. The impressive Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels anchor the defence, while experienced captain Sebastian Kehl knits the whole outfit together in midfield.
Gotze is the key. He is the next to come off the increasingly impressive production line of dangerous German attackers. Like Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller, Gotze has bundles of flair and mobility, moves like a whippet over the pitch, with the necessary amount of devil to unlock any defence. In short, he's the kind of player that children pretend to be when they play in the park.
And with Jack Wilshere & Aaron Ramsey on the treatment table, and Cesc Fabregas & Samir Nasri now plying their trade elsewhere, Arsenal look alarmingly short on the kind of devil that wins matches. Once everybody's favourite side to watch, they have been short of a cutting edge, and remain suspect defensively. Against a passionate home support, and Wenger serving a two match touchline ban, Arsenal could be set for a painful reminder of the side that they once were in Germany.
AND AT THE RUGBY WORLD CUP...
Earlier this morning, England lock Courtney Lawes received a two match ban after being cited for kneeing Mario Ledesma in the head during Saturday's Pool match against Argentina. When asked about the impact of Lawes's absence, head coach Martin Johnson seemed somewhat indifferent.
While this is a wise move from Johnson, the chances are that his nonchalant stance was genuine. In what is a tricky Pool, England's next two games are also their easiest - against Georgia & Romania. Why this stands out as a story is that if the IRB (International Rugby Board) believed that Lawes was guilty, then a two game ban is relatively benign. This seems to be a case of the IRB having their cake and eating it; they look tough for punishing a player, particularly one from a major Rugby Union nation such as England. But the subjective weight of the punishment is negligible. Lawes is a key figure in this England side, and he may have been rested for their next two matches anyway. If anything, the IRB have done Johnson and England a favour.
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